Obama at West Point
Thursday, May 29, 2014
I took a day to digest Obama's address to the graduating cadets at West Point. As a description of what US policy ahould be, it is not bad. As a narrative purporting to describe the last five years of his command of the US military, it is smoke and mirrors and darn close to fiction. If he had acted as he claims to have, I might even be a fan. But he didn't and we and the rest of the planet is much less secure than we were. Let's take a look at some of the excursions from reality. Then I will point out where I agree with is words.
In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.
Or perhaps simply not deluded by an unfounded belief that everything you touch turns to gold, that oceans recede and the earth cools at your command. We are absolutely weaker relative to the rest of the world by pretty much every measure. And our global leadership has slipped to leading from behind, at best.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative. Each year, we grow more energy independent.
Says the guy who has continued to kill the Keystone pipeline, refused to approve drilling permits on federal land, and has fought the shale gas industry with legions of lawfaring regulating bureaucrats. All that while spending billions and billions on crony-run "green" boondoggles and even forcing the Navy to use a $27 a gallon green gas. How is that sustainable?
And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. (Applause.) So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.
Except when the folks in Ukraine and Nigeria dialed that global 911 number they got voicemail instead of an action officer. They may look to us for help, it is just not forthcoming.
Next he gave us a classic Obama construct of on the one hand are isolationists who say the world's problems aren't ours to solve, and on the other are those who say send in the Marines every time a sparrow falls, but I Solomon-like stand in the middle with a better way. Yawn, so do 95% of the rest of us and setting up false choices isn't helpful Nor does make your inability to act decisively any more leaderly. You have to make the hard calls and then act, not furrow your brow and dither.
And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.
How on God's green Earth, populated with the crooked timber of humanity are you going to make that happen? That is a fantasy. Your job is to try to deter bad people from doing those things and to act when they do.
But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.
Another straw man slaughtered. The UN could sanction him for the genocidal assault on straw men he has conducted. I know of a total of zero people who have ever said that every problem has a military solution. The military should be the last resort, but in order for diplomacy or economic pressure to work they need to be backed up by a credible threat of force. War being the continuation of diplomacy by other means per Clausewitz.
Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point. Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort. A lot more were wounded. I believe America’s security demanded those deployments. But I am haunted by those deaths. I am haunted by those wounds. And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak.
Or if I ordered a faux surge into Afghanistan complete with an expiration date that ensured it could not possibly succeed to satisfy my campaign rhetoric. Oh wait, you did exactly that and you did betray all of those who died after you sent them to a war you had already given up on. Now Afghanistan goes firmly into the loss column, and while that is shared by you and your predecessor, the dead and wounded you sent there are on your conscience.
Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only -- or even primary -- component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.
Another straw man bites the dust. Nice soundbite, but really just trite BS and something said regularly by military leaders. OK here comes some of the stuff I can agree with.
So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership.
First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it -- when our people are threatened, when our livelihoods are at stake, when the security of our allies is in danger. In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just. International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life. (Applause.)
On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake -- when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us -- then the threshold for military action must be higher. In such circumstances, we should not go it alone. Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action. In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.
He needs to add that when those vaunted multinational organizations. allies and frenemies chicken out or decide to follow their own self(ish) interests, we will still go it with the willing or alone in these instances as well. Otherwise you just added a "global test" or permission slip for action if action is what is required. But I accept his tiering of threats and the desire, if not need, for partners in less directly dangerous situations. That should always be the goal.
This leads to my second point: For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism. But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.
Pause while another straw man is rolled out for ritual slaughter. Next he trotted out a new counterterrorism program, which I am going to skip as we have no idea what that actually means.
Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action. For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness. I think they’re wrong. Let me offer just two examples why.
Oooh another straw man bites the dust. Respecting international law is fine, allowing it to hobble us is a bad idea.
In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe. But this isn’t the Cold War. Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.
What? Oh that's right the State Department deployed some potent hashtag diplomacy #UnitedforUkraine and then Putin turned tail and ran.
Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine. And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.
Tell that to the Russian Spetsnasz fighting the Ukraininans at Donetsk airport. They aren't feeling too weighed down.
OK I am tired. I have noted that some of his rhetoric about America's place in the world is wonderful. If employed it would be a welcome change. I am not holding my breath.